Saturday, June 23, 2012

Quality of Costco produce raises concerns

A display of bulk produce at Stop & Shop in Teaneck, where prices are competitive with Costco Wholesale in Hackensack and lower in one or two cases.

Do I have to pay a fortune for good produce?

I can't think of a store where the fruit and vegetables have always been perfect, including Costco Wholesale, which sells premium produce at a lower price than most other retailers.

From ShopRite, I've brought home fruit that either never ripens or rots when left out overnight.

At H Mart, I returned mangoes that were brown and rotting inside.

At Costco, I got a refund for mealy pears, and when we cut open "Washington Extra Fancy" Fuji apples, they were brown inside.

I asked for a refund when Trader Joe's organic pears never ripened on the kitchen counter.

In April 2011, I said produce prices were rising and quality was slipping at Costco in Hackensack.

A few days ago, a reader commented on that item:

"I have come to your site after an online 'review'
of Costco produce. Everybody I know is saying that Costco has gone to hell as far as produce goes. Their quality is gone. I'm totally bummed. I used to buy all my produce there.

"Now I go to Hy-Vee grocery stores. Only a little more, price-wise, but 10 times the quality."

I don't know about "Costco has gone to hell," but we spend thousands of dollars on food there every year, and would like to see an improvement, especially when it comes to fruit.

We'd also like to see customers who don't handle every piece of fruit or sample it before buying a package, like the man who popped a few grape tomatoes in his mouth.
Playing chicken

On Friday, my wife went to the Hackensack warehouse store for more fresh wild sockeye salmon from the Copper River in Alaska ($10.99 a pound).

She also picked up a package of Empire kosher leg quarters, which are from free-roaming chickens raised on a vegetarian diet and without antibiotics, according to the package.

When she got them home and opened the shrink-wrapped package, the chicken stank and she saw that it was rancid.

She returned it for a refund and Costco offered her a 50% discount on another package, but she said her time, the need to fight traffic and a ruined reusable bag were worth more than that.

She wanted another package for free.

She had to talk to a few employees, but the general manager granted her wish.
Part of the produce section at Fairway Market in Paramus. Fairway charges 79 cents for a pound of bananas, compared to about 47 cents a pound at Costco.

"Violators will be embarrassed," a Fairway sign warns. Maybe the store should be embarrassed selling olives for $6.99 a pound. Italian olives are $3.99 a pound at Jerry's Gourmet & More on South Dean Street in Englewood.

I went to Fairway Market in Paramus for coffee, selecting the only beans on sale -- French Roast for $6.99 a pound -- and asking an employee for the Turkish grind.

No other North Jersey store has the selection of whole beans available at Fairway, and most are roasted in the store.

There is a huge selection of coffee beans, but only one was on sale this week.

An employee at the coffee-bean roaster in Paramus.

At Fairway, I also bought 2 pints of Jersey blueberries for $5 or what I paid last week at ShopRite in Paramus, and two heads of green-leaf lettuce for $1.49.

A wedge of Spanish Fig Cake with Mixed Nuts was $6.19 ($9.99 a pound), and the only other store with this item is Whole Foods in Paramus.

The fig cake is wonderful with cheese, such as Grana Padano.

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